New report casts doubt on safety of fragranced cleaners
MISSOULA, Mont. – In the first report examining the health effects of fragrance chemicals in cleaning products, NGO Women’s Voices for the Earth has drawn attention to top-selling detergents, air fresheners and spray cleaners. These products contain secret fragrance chemicals that are not required to be listed on the label, and which are linked to allergic reactions, respiratory disorders, reduced fertility and birth defects.
"People need to understand the hazards of fragranced products to themselves, to others, and to the environment. This important report provides illuminating evidence of these widespread hazards,” says Anne Steinemann, Ph.D, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Professor of Public Affairs, University of Washington.
The report, titled “What’s that Smell,” points to a number of scientific studies that cast doubt on the safety of these fragrance chemicals, and their potential to cause long-term health impacts. The presence of these chemicals in everyday cleaners, which impact almost all Americans, shows that chemicals remain largely unregulated due to weak laws governing their use and safety.
“Listing all ingredients directly on the label just makes sense—we’ve been doing it and it has only helped, not hindered, our business. Customers are demanding transparency and a greater commitment to safety, and it’s our job to listen to them,” says Jeffrey Hollender, co-founder of Seventh Generation. “We hope the rest of the cleaning products industry will adopt the solutions outlined in this report, and remove chemicals of concern and list all ingredients on the label.”
For this report, Women’s Voices for the Earth compiled 37 peer-reviewed scientific studies, and highlighted the chemicals that pose significant risk: phthalates and synthetic musks. Phthalates have been associated with hormone disruption, sperm damage, birth defects and feminization of boys. Synthetic musks have been found to enhance the effects of other chemicals entering the body.
Estimates indicate that fragrance usage in the United States has more than doubled since 1990.
The report found that the highest level of synthetic musks was found in laundry detergent, furniture polish and fabric softener.
The report points to a study that found that 75 percent of patients diagnosed with fragrance allergies were women, most of whom developed skin rashes when exposed to fragrances. Women still do 70 percent of the housework in the average home, according to WVE.
“Consumers like the ‘lemon fresh’ and ‘spring breeze’ scents we use. But we now know that these scents contain chemicals that could make us sick,” says WVE executive director Erin Switalski. “The cleaning product industry should come up with a better way—so that consumers don’t have to choose between their health and using a fragranced product that they like. The industry needs to use safer alternatives, so that consumers aren’t taking a risk with their health when they clean.”
“There’s no reason to be putting the health of American consumers at risk because of a legal loophole. We need to update our laws so that moms and dads can get the information they need to make choices about what they bring into their homes,” says Senator Al Franken (D-MN). That’s why I’ve introduced legislation that would require full labeling on the products for cleaners—much like what we have for food and drugs. It’s just common sense.”
This report comes at a time when the industry is facing unprecedented changes at the federal legislative level, with Congress considering Senator Franken’s Household Product Labeling Act and the House of Representatives poised to act on the Safe Chemicals Act this month. The legislation would require that chemicals be evaluated for safety before being included in products. The current law governing chemicals used in the marketplace is over 30 years old. Thousands of chemicals have been introduced to market since then without independent safety testing. WVE advocates for a strong version of the Safe Chemicals Act to be passed.
The report contains information on how to reduce usage of fragranced products as well as suggestions for non-toxic cleaning alternatives.
Women’s Voices for the Earth is a national organization that works to eliminate toxic chemicals that impact women’s health by changing consumer behaviors, corporate practices and government policies. For more information, visit www.womenandenvironment.org.